Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
"My soul doth magnify the Lord" — St. Luke i. 46.
In five weary days' travelling on foot the Blessed Virgin crossed the mountains which separated Nazareth from the land of Judea. She arrived at length at the little town in which dwelt Elizabeth and Zachary. "And she entered," says the holy Gospel, " into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should visit me ? For behold, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy."
In this simple Gospel narrative, let us admire the miracle worked in this highly favoured woman, the first to whom God revealed the coming of His Son upon earth by the visit of Mary and our Divine Saviour. The moment the humble traveller crosses the threshold of the holy dwelling prodigies succeed one another. At the first accents of that sweet voice which says, " Hail, my sister Elizabeth! (Bonaventure, Meditations:) the predestined infant who is to be the forerunner of Mary's Divine Son, leaps for joy in his mother's womb, and his mother herself, filled with the Holy Ghost, recognizes in her young cousin the Mother of her God, and proclaims her blessed among all women.
Then Mary, breaking the silence she has kept since the Annunciation, praises God in that wonderful canticle, the most beautiful that has ever been uttered by human lips.
"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because He that is mighty hath done great things to me: and holy is His name. And His mercy is from generation to generation, to them that fear Him. He hath showed might in His arm: He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away. He Hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy. As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed for ever."
The Church has appointed; that every day Mary's glorious canticle should be sung at Vespers, in order that the faithful may never let a day end without rendering homage to their Mother, by standing; to repeat, at the sound of the bell, with all signs of reverence and joy, that which is the song at once of her triumph and of our deliverance. We know it under the name of the Magnified ; its accents are familiar to our ears, would that the sense were as familiar to our hearts. Fear in it the highest and most consoling: troths of our faith are expressed with such wonderful clearness that if we knew aright how to understand and meditate on the Magnificat we should believe and hope as the saints believe and hope.
Let us, then, meditate on it a moment together, and let us ask our holy mother to be in the midst of us, to enable us to understand it.
Is it a cry of earthly joy and of human pride which breaks from the heart of Mary when Elizabeth bows her venerable head before her, and pays her that homage which no daughter of Eve had ever yet received ? " Whence is this to me, that the Mother of my God should come to me ?" No; Mary's heart is as humble since she has known her high destiny as it was in the first years of her youth, when she desired to be the handmaid of the holy women in the temple. But, inspired by a spirit of prophecy, she sees in the future the deliverance of her people, the deliverance of the whole world, accomplished by her divine Son, she sees the powers of evil overthrown, and the reign of the Saviour established in this world, according to His eternal promises. Boundless joy and gratitude flood her soul as she considers that it is through her that He deigns to accomplish so many miracles, that it is she who has been chosen to give life to the Saviour of the world. Then it is that she cries out in those wonderful words in which humility shines forth as much as joy: " My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed."
Then the Mother of God goes on to prophecy the deliverance of all nations, a deliverance greatly needed, for idolatry reigned on the earth, and all that was small and weak groaned under the oppression of the strong. The great city of Rome, at that time mistress of the whole world, herself torn by factions and trembling under cruel masters, revenged herself by oppressing the subject nations. Her chief citizens, themselves oppressed, took their revenge by oppressing others in their turn, and slavery, descending step by step, reached from the highest to the lowest, crushing the humblest classes. There was no justice, no law, but the law of the strongest. The only nation to which the law of God was known was groaning under the same yoke, slavery being imposed upon it in punishment for its too long ingratitude. And from the whole earth a sad concert of complaints and groans rose up towards heaven. Suddenly a song of hope resounds.
"The mercy of the Lord is from generation unto generations, to them that fear Him. He hath shewed might in His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their; heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away. He hath received His servant Israel, being mindful of His mercy., As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed for ever." (St. Luke i.)
What, then, are these new sounds ? How can prodigies such as these be accomplished? Will the Saviour be, as the Hebrews hope, a terrible conqueror, who will dim the glory of David and Josue, and break the chains of the people of Israel ?
No; that would be the deliverance of one small nation only, and the whole earth has need of deliverance. He will be called by the Jews the son of the carpenter; on the shores of the lake of Galilee He will choose twelve fishermen as poor as Himself, He will spend a few years preaching the kingdom of God to the unknown, and consoling the miseries of the obscure. When the powerful of this world become aware of His existence they will fasten Him to a cross between two thieves. But behold from His blood, as from a divine seed, will rise a power never before known.
Those twelve ignorant fishermen will be filled with marvellous knowledge; they will publish, in all languages of the earth, the history and the lessons of the crucifixion. Those weak men who, with a single exception, will abandon their beloved Master in His sufferings, will afterwards brave everything, they will be the unconquerable shepherds of a persecuted flock. They will go to teach humility, love, and peace, even in mighty Rome, where nothing is known but pride and hate; they will be persecuted, scourged, and crucified, like their Master.
But still, marvellous to relate, to each martyred shepherd another shepherd will succeed, the flock which seems abandoned to the wolves will continually increase. "The mercy of God is from generation unto generations, to them that fear Him." And soon the old empire of the persecutors will tremble to its foundations. At a sign from God nations hitherto unknown will pour in, like another deluge, covering the lands of the wicked, and on these tumultuous waves, which seem about to swallow up everything, a holy ark will, by the grace of God, save the persecuted, and thus they will escape the shipwreck. And what holy ark is this? It is the Church: the holy Church, whose seat God has established in that same city of Rome, in which the first Pope, St. Peter, chosen and consecrated by Jesus Christ Himself, was crucified like his Master. There it is that God caused the " might of His arm" to weigh heavily on the lords of the world; there it is that He " scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart." It was to make room for His Church that He put down the mighty from their seat. It is in her bosom that the humble are exalted, that the hungry are filled with good things. And the true Israel received into the arms of the Lord is the true Church, the heir to His promises, and the depositary of His teaching. It is by her and in her that we are the people of God, that people gathered from all nations of the earth, which Jesus Christ calls to share His heavenly kingdom.
Let us, then, sing with Mary the song of our deliverance, but let us remember that none have the right to sing it save the children of the Church. Let us love the Church as our shelter and safeguard, which has been the author and preserver not only of our hopes in heaven, but also of all that we hold dear on earth.
This is true of men of all nations, but there are none to whom it applies so strongly as to the people of our beloved England; for nothing is more certain than that all that is great and glorious in her came from the Catholic Church. The first Englishmen, when they landed upon the shores of this fair island (which was then called Britain) were a horde of wild bloodthirsty savages, who destroyed all that they found, burning cities and villages, and slaughtering the old inhabitants, men, women, and children. From the day on which they took possession of Britain it lost its place in the civilized world, its very name was forgotten, Britain was no more, and England, as it then for the first time began to be called, was for many years a scene of bloody wars, murder, and violence. The inhabitants of each district were always at war with their neighbours; the strong were, sooner or later, killed in battle; the weak, the women and children, were taken prisoners and sold as slaves into foreign lands. Such was our beloved England before the Catholic Church rose upon it, as the sun rises to dispel the darkness of some stormy night. We all know, but it cannot be too often repeated, how the deliverance of our fathers was brought about. The heart of St. Gregory the Great, the first Pope of the name, while as yet he was only a humble monk, was melted with compassion at the sight of a group of beautiful fair-haired English children exposed for sale in the slave market at Borne, and when he became Pope his first care was to send a band of Roman priests to bring to England the glad tidings of great joy. From this little seed sprang the Christian England which for many centuries was known over all the Christian world as the Island of Saints; and whatever there is in England to this day that is good and glorious, its seeds were sown when it was the first boast of England's people and of England's kings to be faithful children of the Catholic Church, and that their island was "the dowry of the Blessed Virgin Mary." Then it was that our good old laws and our English liberty were established. Then, for the first time, the rich learned to be humble and charitable, and the poor to be content, and the religious houses gave full opportunities of giving themselves up to the service of God in peace and blessedness to every one, whether rich or poor, who was called by God's grace to that happy life. But alas, the devil envied the happiness of England, and on a miserable day, some three hundred years ago, he succeeded in separating her from the Catholic Church.
The wretched King Henry VIII. and his most vile daughter Elizabeth, made themselves tyrants over both the bodies and the souls of Englishmen. The churches were taken from the religion for which they were built, and given to the Protestant parsons, and the lands which had been given by our fathers to the churches, and abbeys, and convents, for the benefit of the poor, were seized by force, and although the parsons of course got as much of them as they could, the greater part was given to the king's rich favourites. Worse than all, the children of many generations, as they grew up, one after another, were taught to believe lies against the Church and the Pope, and the priests, and the monks, and the nuns, whom for centuries past their fathers, who really knew what they were, had loved and honoured as their greatest benefactors.
These lies were taught them lest, if they knew the truth, they should turn away with disgust from the Protestant parsons, and return to the religion which had made England great and happy; and should take away the abbey lands from the favourites to whom Henry VIII. had given them. And so things got worse and worse, and poor English men and women had to be shut up in union workhouses, and fed by poor rates, names never heard of till England became Protestant. For many long years the Catholic Church was persecuted by those who had got England into their power, and every priest who came in (like those sent long before by Pope Gregory I.) to bring blessings to the people, was put to death in tortures, and Englishmen were taught to blaspheme and revile the names of those who had ever been the chief benefactors of their country.
This persecution, no doubt, would have been going on to this day, if it had not happened that the Protestants, divided into a number of different sects, and after a great many years, in which each of these sects, as it got into power, persecuted all the rest, they agreed that the best and safest course would be to settle that in future each man should be left at liberty to believe and profess whatever he pleased. When this was done, the Catholics, who had been obliged to hide themselves during the long persecution, came out of their hiding places, and openly practised their religion. All at once it began to spread. Numbers of the wisest, best, and most religious men and women who had been brought up Protestants, and had all their lives believed the lies against Catholics which they had been taught when they were children, found out that they were lies, and that the Catholic religion was the only truth, and so it once again began to spread over the land.
This is the meaning of all the nonsense which we now hear talked against Popery and priests, and convents. It is raised by the devil, who id enraged to have his old lies found out and exposed. Besides this, many of the best people who still remain Protestants, seeing how much better the Catholic religion is, are trying to bring in Catholic rites and worship into the Protestant Established Church. These are the people called Ritualists. We must pray that their eyes may be opened to see that this is useless and vain, and that they cannot really be Catholics except by submitting, as their fathers did, to the one Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, for us who have the blessing of being Catholics, whether we have always been so, or have been brought by God's grace into the Church, let us love the Church, and never suffer her to be insulted. "When she is suffering, let us pray for her. Let us aid her poverty. The more she is afflicted, the more faithful ought we to be. Let us blush to range ourselves on the side of the strong against the weak, on the side of the ungrateful against our benefactress. As. Christiana let us know how to distinguish the manifest character of divinity which shines in this weakness of the Church, unarmed, assailed, always attacked, always triumphant. Let us be on the side of God.
O Mary, Help of Christians, thou whose prayers bear unceasingly to the foot of the throne of God the wants and cries of the holy Church, thou, the Queen of the Apostles who founded her, of the martyrs who cemented her with their blood, of the doctors who taught in her name, of the saints who have honoured her by their virtues, watch over her in these difficult times; obtain for her august head the inspirations of divine wisdom, and for her children a filial and devoted heart, which may understand the sorrows of their common mother, and may know how to come to her aid with prayer and alms-deeds. Remember, Mary, that thou wert the first to prophesy her reign, that thy voice, which sang her glory, rises at all hours at the foot of the throne of God, that He may take in hand the cause of His servant Israel, being mindful of His mercies and His promises. Amen.
Never to pass a day without praying for the Pope, and for our holy Mother the Church.